For the past ten years Quebec had a free, effective and safe HPV vaccination program that protected us and our children from many cancers. Beginning this month, Quebec children will be the only ones in Canada, and even the world, to be given an HPV vaccination program for which there is currently no adequate scientific evidence to support whether it will work at least as effectively as the one offered everywhere else. Why is Quebec changing a program that has proven to be effective?
Since 2008, a free HPV vaccination program has been offered in Quebec, in 2016 it was expanded to include boys. That program consisted of two doses of the Gardasil9 vaccine which provided children with complete protection against HPV-related diseases, including cancers of the head and neck, tongue, throat, anus, cervix, vulva, vagina and penis. This regimen was recommended by the Québec Immunization Committee (CIQ) based at the Quebec National Institute of Public Health. Ten years of research has proven this program to lower rates of genital warts and HPV infections in Quebecers.
The new HPV vaccine schedule suggested by the CIQ puts cost saving before Quebecers’ health and research ethics. Instead of receiving two doses of Gardasil9, Quebec children will now receive a new mixed vaccination schedule of one dose of Gardasil9 and one dose of Cervarix. Gardasil9 protects against 9 HPV types whereas Cervarix protects against only 2 HPV types. It is worrisome to note that boys will now receive Cervarix, a vaccine that has not been approved by Health Canada for males nor proven to protect them against infections, pre-cancer, and cancers. Further, in the long-term for girls and boys, there is no evidence this new program is as effective as the current two doses of Gardasil9. It is disappointing and troubling to see that our province is willing to put our children at risk of developing HPV-related cancers and diseases later in their lives just to save on costs.
The new schedule was not discussed with experts from all relevant fields. There are at least 65 scientific experts who have raised concerns and preoccupations since learning of this change last April. The Society of Gynecologic Oncology of Canada (GOC), which includes 44 experts in Quebec alone, would have anticipated being involved about such changes that affect cancer of the cervix but was not consulted in this case. Why wasn’t the scientific community consulted this time? Dr. Marc Steben, a Canadian HPV expert states, « It will take 8–10 years to prove if the mixed vaccination schedule is at least as protective as the previous program. Since there is no proof of long-term efficacy, there should be a research project done with consent forms approved by an ethics committee. This mixed vaccination schedule is a research program and it should not be done on the whole population under the guise that this is preventative treatment. »
The only way to change the current policy and revert to the safe and proven effective vaccination schedule to what it was in 2017, is for Quebecers to demand better from their government, a government whose ultimate responsibility is the health and safety of the Quebec population. If this program is not changed immediately, Quebec parents and caregivers will have to pay at least $175 out of pocket to give their children the same protection as kids everywhere else in Canada.
Call the Health Minister, Dr. Gaétan Barrette at 418-266-7171 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell him to rectify this situation; Quebec families should not have to pay additional costs to get the same protection as the rest of Canada. HPV vaccination and cancer prevention are far too important. We all need to act on this important issue today so that we can continue to offer our children the best protection possible.
Why would we want to give our kids something we are not sure is effective? Let’s make sure our kids receive the best protection against cancers. Contact our Health Minister about this to help make a difference.